Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Art Attack: Ben & Rickey's Infinite Crisis Jam

In the summer of 2006, Rickey and I were struck by a bolt of artistic inspiration with the conclusion after over a year of build and execution of DC's Infinite Crisis. Having both done our fair share of promotional work on the book for Wizard, we decided to express our satisfaction with its success while also congratulating our buddy and the event's writer, Geoff Johns, by drawing as many characters featured in the story as we could and turn that into a card for him.

Our process was to trade the card back and forth, each of us doing two or three characters then passing it along to the other guy. We didn't set out with any assigned list of who would draw who, so it was a free for all to nab the folks you wanted most on your first pass and then hope the next batch wasn't taken when it came back to you.

Not surprisingly, I believe I went for the Suicide Squad guys and Flashes first. Rickey took the Big Three of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as well as showing a perhaps unhealthy amount of enthusiasm for dead Teen Titans and villains with big heads. I'm not sure if he just got to Superboy before me, really wanted to draw sideburns, or I was still grieving.

Here's what we came back with...

I'd say I'm most pleased with how I did on Captain Cold, Bizarro, the Blue Beetles, Hawkman, Killowog and my random addition of Brother Eye. I was pleasantly surprised with how I managed details in a small space, which I think is pretty well represented in most of the characters I just named. I also appreciate that I drew Bushido with X's for eyes to indicate he was killed by Superboy Prime. I think my Zoom and Sinestro turned horribly wrong.

I love Rickey's Chemo and Wildebeest for how crazy they are and also how he used his style to turn out unique but faithful takes on characters like Golden Age Superman, Dr. Psycho, Hector Hammond, Black Hand, Alan Scott and Mongul; he made the villains look way creepy and the older heroes dignified yet clearly aged. And it goes without saying that his decapitated Pantha is a thing of beauty. However, Aquaman with the little fish swimming by aside, my overall favorite of Rickey's characters is definitely his bone-bearded Doomsday, who just looks cool as hell.

We've certainly got very different styles of drawing, as Rickey is way more comfortable than I am and can cut loose a lot easier while I tend to trip myself up in too many details, but I think we meshed pretty nicely here for a nice little collage. If I could do it over again, I'd have even more of our buds contribute for variety.

Back to 2006, we had our boy Jairo scan in the card so we could keep in in our records, then sent it off to California c/o Geoff.

Somehow it never got there and to this day he's never seen the darn thing.

But a week or so ago, Rickey was going through old files from Wizard and voila: there it was.

So happy fourth anniversary of finishing Infinite Crisis, Geoff! You did great!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oh Crystal, you utter hussy...

Crystal's greatest infidelity hits, from the recently-collected Avengers: Vision & The Scarlet Witch - A Year in the Life.

To set the scene, at the time of this series, Crystal was married to Quicksilver and had recently given birth to their daughter, Luna. Let's see what our favorite elemental Inhuman/village bicycle is up to...

Why I never!

For those of you who didn't want to blow up the panels, let me share some highlights from Crystal Rationalization Theater:


CRYSTAL - "We've always had to sneak before, Norman -- what with Wanda and Vizh living so close by! But now that they're on vacation--! Oh, it's so perfect!"


NORMAN: "If only you weren't married--!" (She knows how to pick 'em!)

CRYSTAL: "Now, Norman, we promised we weren't going to talk about that!"


NORMAN: "Let's tell [Quicksilver]! Tell him you want a divorce and stop sneaking around!"

CRYSTAL: "Well...easy for you to say! You don't have nearly as much to lose!" (Norman, you selfish asshole!)


CRYSTAL: "It's better I continue to tell [Quicksilver] I miss Earth, take the anti-pollution potion (Science!), and come down for fabulous weekends -- and I do mean fabulous, hunk-o!" ("Hunk-o" is Inhuman Royal Family for "convenient")


Annnnnd scene!

All together now...

OH CRYSTAL! (Cue laugh track and closing theme)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Linko! L

Damn! When Ben and I decided to start adding Roman Numerals to this thing, part of the reason was because I didn't really know how that system developed as it got passed SuperBowl numbers. 50 is L. How about that?

* Jeez Louise, you guys...if there is just one link you HAVE to check out this week, it's Foreign Policy's gallery of photos from a circa early '60s book on life in Afghanistan. Above: co-ed college students study Biology. So many more amazing pictures that combat the gross "Afghans are stone age savages" rhetoric out there these days it's INSANE.

* And hey, not to make this too political (but I guess why not because it's our fucking blog), but with all the news coverage of the piece, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to read the Michael Hasting's Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal that caused his firing. [SIDE NOTE: Was everyone REALLY that surprised that Rolling Stone wrote such a story? They've been covering war in general and our current wars in particular for years. Has every on air talent at CNN, MSNBC and Fox literally never read a copy of America's biggest Rock N Roll magazine?]

As a follow up to the initial profile, I'll say that a lot of the time I defer to my brother the Iraqi War veteran Brian's opinion on most matters involving our military, and like him, I agree that there are some interesting points made about what exactly McChrystal was fired for in this D.B Grady post at The Atlantic. I mean, Grady comes off like a total ass clown when he gets into his "Obama has given up on victory in Afghanistan" track later on, but I guess I'm just glad that someone is questioning whether or not the General really said anything worthy of being called insubordinate or worse.

* OK, on to comics! The I Love Rob Liefeld blog has another of its super helpful roundups of comics in book form worth buying. Go check it out and start setting aside cash now!

* Did you know that CBR has the entire first issue of David Hine and Shaky Kane's Bulletproof Coffin up to read for free. Well, WE DO! Go check it out!

* Sean T. Collins crack Link: i09 has a pretty radical gallery of He-Man concept art up, although the blogger who posted it seems not to quite grok the awesomeness of Masters of the Universe.

* Semi-related Link?: Sean blogged this as well, and I think it was Chris Ward who first drew our attention to it, but the Slate revisiting on the Dick Tracy movie is SO worth your time.

* I kind of know about this show because I see its commercials on those odd nights I'm up at 3:00 AM watching Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends repeats, but apparently that "Phineas and Ferb" show on Disney XD is on its way to being a Spongebob-level hit for the kid set. Who know, bro?

* Finally, thanks to my bud "I'm down like" Cullen Brown for this thought-provoking link on the potential dangers of 3D movies.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The sad, squandered potential of Kitchen Confidential

Today’s television climate has made me a paranoid consumer.

Shows get canceled so quickly and sometime with such random rationale that it feels like the freakin’ wild West, man (not really, but that’s a great go-to analogy). I get super-excited about the new Fall season and reading what new programs are debuting, then almost immediately pull back and won’t watch anything without a season behind it for fear I’ll get abandoned on a cliffhanger four episodes in.

I’ll generally subscribe to the theory that if I watch a first season on DVD, then I’m safe to get into season two, but even that can backfire (thank you, Dirty Sexy Money). And hype is no proper barometer either as the stuff with the all-star line-ups and huge marketing campaigns tanks as easily as the under-the-radar sleepers (I’m pretty glad I didn’t put any eggs in the FlashForward basket, but I’m pretty psyched Parenthood will be back in the fall).

To varying degrees, shows like Firefly, Better Off Ted, Veronica Mars, Jack & Bobby, and of course the patron saint of all unjustly cancelled shows Arrested Development have all broken my heart, but one case of television euthanasia stands chef’s hat and shoulder above the rest for me.
When Kitchen Confidential hit the airwaves in the fall of 2005, it had the full weight of the Fox promotional machine behind it to begin with and I tuned in because I was a fan of Bradley Cooper from Wedding Crashers as well as his stint on the aforementioned Jack & Bobby (not to mention Wet Hot American Summer). I thought the first couple episodes were pretty good, but then it went on hiatus for the World Series, pulled mediocre ratings, and got cancelled after only two more installments. Truth be told, I—like most of the viewing public—forgot about the show during the hiatus and wasn’t much bothered by the cancellation.

Last year for Christmas I got the full 13-episode series on DVD and wow—that this show only got four chances to show what it could do (not to mention a momentum-halting stoppage right after it started) is a travesty.

It’s a smart comedy that comes out the gate with a different feel. It was based on chef Anthony Bourdain’s “reformed bad boy” lifestyle working in restaurant kitchens which provided a unique setting a few years before cooking reality shows hit it big. The writing is sharp and the look inside the dining industry provides enough varied plots to keep it from feeling like just another sitcom.

But as well-conceptualized and written as Kitchen Confidential is, no question the cast is what sets it apart.

If Bradley Cooper enjoys life as a movie star, he should really be thanking Fox for botching the management of this show so badly, because his Jack Bourdain is such a great character tailored so perfectly to him that had Kitchen Confidential taken off, I would not be surprised if he ended up a TV lifer; and that’s a compliment, by the way. Jack is exactly the kind of charming in spite of his douchiness rogue that Cooper plays so well, but unlike in Wedding Crashers or The Hangover, he’s the emotional center of the piece here rather than the antagonist or sidekick. This is the guy we’re meant to root for and feel empathy towards, despite the fact that he’s cocky, a womanizer, ill-tempered, etc.—and Cooper pulls it off! You love Jack when he’s reeling off one-liners or getting the girl, but there’s also that deep-rooted layer of good that shows through in his loyalty towards his friends, his drive to be the best and his commitment to warding off his demons that not only humanizes him, but provides dramatic grounding for a very funny show as well. Cooper—in conjunction with the writers and Anthony Bourdain—crafted one of the more unique television “heroes” of the past several years on this show, and that we didn’t get to see more of his journey is probably the greatest crime to come with its dismissal.

However, Bradley Cooper is hardly carrying this show on his own. You look over the cast and it’s pretty darn impressive both on the screen and in terms of what they’ve done since. Nicholas Brendon is still—and likely always will be—best known for playing Xander on Buffy, but he flipped the script here as pastry chef Seth Richman, a far more confident and outgoing type whose comedy comes from his unfamiliarity with failure and awkwardness rather than Xander’s constant love affair with both. John Francis Daley plays the odd man out among a group of alpha males as newbie chef Jim, not shockingly becoming probably the most endearing character on the show in the process—his romance with ditzy bombshell Tanya, played by Sin City’s Jaime King, is just adorable—and creating a template for his work the last several seasons on Bones. Owain Yeoman plays a great mini-Jack as sous chef Steven, which makes it even funnier when he displays a broad emotional side, and he’s currently a regular on The Mentalist. And lest the boys have all the fun, Bonnie Somerville is hysterical as conniving and neurotic head waitress Mimi, matching Cooper perfectly as the best nemesis he has.

Did I mention frigging Frank Langella is a recurring character as the restaurant owner? And Harold from Harold & Kumar is on the show too—yeah, Sulu (yes, I know his name is John Cho).

For my money, there is no greater missed opportunity when it comes to cancelled TV shows in recent memory than Kitchen Confidential not only because of how great it was and how amazing it had the potential to be, but due to how little of a chance it was given.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Florida Supercon 2010 Picture Show

Heya folks! Kevin here with a few of my pictures from the Florida Supercon! Before we get into that though, my thoughts on the show itself:

This was my first year out to this particular convention and let me tell you, I did not expect the amount of people I saw there to actually be there. Between the overall small size of the show floor itself and the amount of attendees, it felt like San Diego Lite. There was a lot of cramming and my friends and I lost each other constantly. That said though, the costumes were AMAZING. Besides meeting up with my comic buddies--shout out to the always awesome Jim McCann, Fred Van Lente and Filip Sablik who attended this year's con--checking out all the rad costumes is easily my favorite part of going to conventions. At lot of these people put in some serious time and effort and their costumes come out looking really great. What really sucks though is that with so many costumes and so many people I missed a lot of opportunities to nab some pictures, including one of a really awesome Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers. Anyway, check out the pics I did manage to capture below!

Above, my friend Amanda who made her very own Hawkgirl costume, which not only looks amazing, but she also looks amazing in

Here are my friends Bridget and Jose as one of comics' greatest couple, the Joker and Harley Quinn

Tifa from Final Fantasy VII. Alas, she is unfortunately not my friend

Wanda and Cosmo! "Two wrongs don't make a right." "But three rights make a left!"

Save the mask, this guy made the entire costume by himself--including that Gatling Gun, which is ridiculously awesome and in fact spins

That Nemesis guy also hand made this Flash helmet. And the picture really does no justice on how spot on the helmet turned out. Seriously, Jay Garrick himself wouldn't be able to tell the difference

And finally, Invader Zim crew! The Gaz is even playing a DS!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Developing a Brocabulary: Types of Bros

It's been far too long.

Yes, following more than a year's hiatus, I am once again cracking open the pages of Brocabulary: The New Man-i-festo of Dude Talk to explore it's hallowed teachings.

The topic this time around is a simple yet vital one: some different kinds of bros, as covered in the chapter Brommunication (n.) The art of communicating in a brophisticated manner, with or about your bros

sack pack - A bunch of dudes traveling in a group, or a cock flock. When they turn into a door jam by jockeying to get into a club, they're known as a bluster cluster, and when they storm a party they're known as a bro storm.

cerebro - The bro who does the thinking for you. You're R2-D-Dude and he's C-3P-Bro.

guyamese twins - Two bros who are pretty much inseparable (eg. Batman and Robin, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Michael Knight and KITT)

PAL 2000 - when a bro who seems to have your best interest at heart suddenly turns on you like HAL 2000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, usually by giving you bad advice and claiming it's for your own good: "The dude was my brother half until he PAL 2000ed me by convincing me to dump my girl and then hooking up with her. He totally soaked me in traitorade."

wannabro - A dork who tries to be a bro but is nothing but a wannabe. Sometimes referred to as a wannaDB as in "Dude, you're not even a douchebag, you're a wannaDB."

Vincent Van Bro - A bro who is so loyal he would cut his ear off for you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cruel Summer: Mister Sinister

My history with Mister Sinister begins, as so many of my comics-related tales do, with “The X-Cutioner’s Song.” He was the tertiary villain at best, showing up near the beginning to kidnap Cyclops and Jean Grey, then again at the conclusion, getting bamboozled into released the Legacy Virus on the world. He looked kind of like an evil Colossus and didn’t impress me much; in a crossover where Stryfe was at the top of his game and Apocalypse was also running wild, Mister Sinister seemed like an afterthought with a goofy name.

Then I saw the cliffhanger finale to season one of “X-Men: The Animated Series”—and the version of Sinister intended to fly on a cartoon aimed at a Saturday morning audience comprised primarily of children scared the crap out of me and left a lasting impression.

Following the big battle against the Sentinels, Scott Summers and Jean Grey are chilling on a beach when the visual framing of the scene shifts and we’re now viewing them through a camera lens. The perspective flips and we see a silhouetted figure seated upon a creepy throne of tentacles or something; he leans forward to reveal a pasty-faced ghoul with sunken eyes and a grinning mouthful of yellow, fanged teeth. And then the kicker: a fiendish laugh that sent chills through my young soul and had me cringing through the summer months awaiting new episodes.
Mister Sinister as the foreboding, undefeatable, supremely confident overarching villain of season two, voiced spot-on with hollow menace by Christopher Britton, became my template for the character, and also intrigued me as far as looking into his comic book history more in-depth.

Truth be told, at first, I didn’t find much.

Chris Claremont’s original concept for Mister Sinister as he tells it is pretty cool: the idea was that he was a powerful mutant who had been around for some time but his physical development had stopped around age 11, so in order to be taken seriously as a super villain, he created the Sinister vessel modeled after what a kid would find scary then sent him out into the world. Certainly some potential there as a sort of evil Captain Marvel—the Fawcett/DC version—analog, but for whatever reason, it seems like the writer never got to play him that way.

Instead, Sinister gets kind of dropped into the X-Men mythos in the late 80’s seemingly just because the Marauders needed a boss and Inferno needed a mastermind, set up as an ambiguous and foreboding figure surrounded by mystery with vague ties to Cyclops. In his early appearances, Mister Sinister does seem when you look back on it with Claremont’s original intent in mind the embodiment of what a kid would think of as a scary bad guy, but since his creator only got to really tell one story with him and then departed the books a few years later, the payoff never took place. Instead, Claremont’s successors were left with a villain who almost seemed a parody—with good reason, since, again, he’s meant to be a kid’s conception—but without explanation.

That’s the comic book version of Mister Sinister I met, and not that surprisingly I wrote him off as a product of late 80’s/early 90’s excess where everybody was a shadowy mastermind with too many secrets and ill-defined powers; he worked as a boogeyman on Saturday mornings—again, Claremont’s intent used in a way he probably never conceived—but seemed unnecessary in comics.

However, writers like Fabian Nicieza and Scott Lobdell saw something in Mister Sinister—and also good X-Men villains are kind of few and far between—so they kept bringing him back and giving him more and more connections to our heroes, without ever revealing much about the man himself. It was frustrating, but also admittedly tantalizing, as I would get annoyed that we never knew Sinister’s deal, yet of course this made me want to know his secrets more than ever and gasp whenever he appeared suddenly in an X-Men comics; the guy had presence, I have to say that.

In 1996, nearly a decade after his creation, Sinister—writers had largely dropped the “Mister”—had his origin told in the Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix limited series, written by Peter Milligan with art by John Paul Leon and Klaus Janson.

Interestingly enough, I never got around to reading the book and once again got my Sinister fix from “X-Men: The Animated Series,” the penultimate episode of which was “Descent,” adapting Further Adventures for Saturday morning consumption about a year after it came out in print form.

In both Further Adventures and “Descent,” we learn that Nathaniel Essex was a 19th century scientist obsessed with Darwinism and evolution who performed depraved experiments and eventually made a pact with Apocalypse to grant him power and immortality as Mister Sinister in order to continue his work beyond his natural lifetime. In subsequent years, it would be revealed that Sinister’s obsession with the Summers and Grey bloodlines were born out of twin desires to harvest incredible genetic potential while at the same time creating the ultimate failsafe against his former master—at some point he got on Apocalypse’s bad side—in the form of Nathan Christopher Summers, who would become Cable.

Probably not what Claremont had in mind, but finally this guy had motivation, and one with potential at that.

Sinister was the old Golden Age mad scientist who got lost in his work and exploited by crime bosses done up in a new way for a generation who expected more layers to their villains and for a franchise that thrived on shades of grey. That the unshakeable ego and calm of Sinister could be rattled be Essex’s gnawing and uncontrollable thirst for knowledge was a different paradigm for the X-Men antagonist of the day. You couldn’t bully or intimidate Sinister through physical force or emotional blackmail, but dangle the carrot of information in front of his diamond-adorned forehead and he becomes a junkie jonesing for a fix.

One of the very best Sinister stories I ever read was “Sinister’s List” from 2003’s Weapon X #14 by Frank Tieri and the guy who I suppose may well be the definitive Mister Sinister artist, John Paul Leon. Following up on the revelation that Doctor Windsor, the seemingly kindly scientist helping mutants to escape from Weapon X’s Neverland detention center is in fact Sinister, who is only abducting them from the prison to his lab for dissection, we get a flashback to Essex during World War II, where he worked alongside the Nazis, cloning Namor and observing the Invaders while attempting to glean knowledge for his own ends. It’s the perfect snapshot of Sinister as a man lost in his own pursuit of answers, completely unaware of the world around him save for the raw elements it can provide him. A pretty on-the-nose comparison between Sinister and Josef Mengele is drawn, but Tieri is quick to differentiate as well, with Essex musing on the “wastefulness” of the Nazi agenda and clearly not adhering to any sort of doctrine of racial superiority, instead viewing all people regardless of creed as nothing more than specimens for the “greater good” of scientific inquiry; true to his Darwinist roots, Sinister doesn’t care which race ultimately survives, he just wants to observe it all.

That was one of the very last times Mister Sinister was featured prominently before his demise in 2007’s Messiah Complex crossover. Truthfully, I think it’s impressive the character made it that far—20 years exactly—given the disparity between his creator’s intentions and where he ultimately ended up, but you have to be impressed at how he seemed to succeed in spite of those conflicting directions, thriving in several different roles and drawing impressive work out of multiple creators who at the end of the day really just seemed to want to solve the riddle of who he was and why he did what he did.

In the first issue of X-Men Forever 2, a comic written by none other than Chris Claremont, a mysterious boy appears in an orphanage alongside Cyclops’ son, speaking ominously with a familiar silhouette surrounding him, so two decades later, we may finally get to see where—to end on a fairly awful pun—this Sinister road leads.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Five Comics Worth Reading Extra: Dope Debuts

When I was compiling Five Comics Worth Reading last week, I had a surplus of books to choose from, in large part because so many new series have made a great impression on me just in the last month. In order to trim the herd, I decided to cut anything I hadn’t read a second issue of yet, but I’m gonna talk about five of those comics now, because they keep up the tone they’ve set thus far, they’re most certainly worth reading.

It seemed like this one would be a gimme, as Christos Gage and Mike McKone are one helluva creative team and this book would get to ride the momentum of the Heroic Age, but I think there was a lot of pressure here as well, given not only that the title would have to stand up with the higher profile Avengers launches, but there’s also already a much-beloved team of young Avengers out there (called the Young Avengers). I’m pleased to report that from where I sit, Avengers Academy has bucked any jinx and lived above the hype with the first issue. Gage had a tough task as far as creating yet another group of teen heroes in a Universe and industry already filled with them; thus far he has made them distinct by willingly taking risks and going to a dark place psychologically yet one that does not rely on graphic violence or anything like that. He’s writing a smart book here and his characters’ flaws are complex, not surface level, in a way that makes them instantly compelling (that he has described one cast member as “maybe on the autism spectrum, maybe a sociopath” more than once gives you an idea what I’m talking about). As for McKone, he’s redefining himself and his legacy here already, and for a guy whose work and career I follow with as much reverence as his, I think I’m making quite a statement there; Mike’s work over six years ago on Teen Titans was breathtaking, but the experimentation in mediums and techniques he’s doing here is really something.

Full disclosure: Yes, Jim McCann is a dear friend, so I have certainly been in his corner and delighted as he has ascended to a real bonafide writing star on the rise over the past couple years. At the same time, I am very much honest with Jim in terms of assessing his work even when I find some flaw in it (and for his part, he takes criticism as well as anybody and takes it to heart). So it’s with a lot of pride that I read the first issue of Hawkeye & Mockingbird and not only saw so much of what Jim has set out to do with this, a dream project for him to be sure, realized, but also how hard he has worked to elevate his work to a level it wasn’t at even a few months ago; Jim not only has more evident love for his work and the characters in his charge than most, he also puts in that extra mile to write for the guy least likely to enjoy what he’s doing and bring them around. I know what affection he has for Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse and at times during New Avengers: The Reunion I felt those personal feelings may have overshadowed creating something everybody can process, but I’m so pleased to report that’s in no way the case here, as both Hawkeye and Mockingbird as well as the neat little world Jim has built for them remarkably quickly shine in a way I don’t believe decades of familiarity is a requisite to dig. Jim sets a lot of stuff in motion simultaneously in terms of solid mysteries and adventure, but he also never loses sight on selling that central relationship. He’s also got a tremendous creative partner in David Lopez, whose work I have enjoyed since Catwoman and who puts—if it’s possible—just as much enthusiasm and effort into the artistic end of this book as Jim does the writing. Very much looking forward to seeing this book continue to grow both as a fan and a friend.

So far, so good; Paul Levitz is proving to me that even two decades later, you can indeed go home again. Levitz of course famously wrote Legion of Super-Heroes for nearly 15 years from the mid-70’s and late-80’s, taking the franchise to heights never before—or arguably since—seen both creatively and commercially, deftly balancing a cast that at times included two dozen or so characters and making each and every one of them his own in the process. Understandably there had to be some skepticism over whether or not the old master could do it again in an industry that has come a long way since 1989, but I must say I enjoyed the heck out of the first Paul Levitz-written issue of Legion of Super-Heroes in 21 years and felt like it didn’t miss a beat from one of my all-time favorite runs. The most impressive thing is that Levitz’ work here doesn’t feel dated and meshes well with the evolved feel of the medium, yet he doesn’t seem to have sacrificed any of the tricks that made his first go-around so great, from the constantly-shifting focus every one-three pages—I really didn’t realize how much I missed that—to the soap opera-on-steroids feel of the book’s teenage protagonists. Elements introduced in recent years by Geoff Johns like the jingoistic Earth Man or the Legion’s problems with the United Planets don’t feel like inherited items Levitz feels he must deal with, they seem more like challenges he relishes. As for artist Yildiray Cinar, I’d say my judgment still needs to be formed, as he’s brilliant one page and then a bit unfocused the next, but the raw material is certainly there. For now though, I’m mostly just in awe of how this book settles so nicely into a niche that has been sorely missed; welcome back, Mr. Levitz.

So this is the Sean McKeever I’ve heard so much about. In all seriousness, Young Allies does seem like it’s going to be the long-awaited breakout book for Sean after years of under-the-radar success and near-hits, and it could not happen to a nicer guy. It’s a great array of characters, with an old standby like Firestar, McKeever’s own pet character Gravity, new blood in Toro and then the square pegs he has impressively made fit with Nomad and Arana really providing quite a unique blend of personalities. But as much well-deserved credit as Sean has gotten via books like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane for providing an entertaining look at the teenage experience, he’s also dynamically good at taking that old-fashioned struggle between good and evil we a lot of us came to comics looking for in the first place and both explore the shades of grey while also stripping it down to its component parts. His new villains, the Bastards of Evil—who are literally the supposedly discarded children of existing bad guys—are great examples of this, with a really twisted yet strangely endearing motivation that goes out the window as soon as they start trying to blow everything up. The old school fan in me really grooves on McKeever’s dedication to showing via Gravity, Nomad and friends why even in the mixed up world both they and we live in why morality and heroics still have a place, albeit one found via much angst and self-exploration. David Baldeon is a nice match on art as his work similarly has a surface-level simplicity that belies much more thought-out and even sinister stuff going on deeper within.

As he demonstrated time and again via his work on the Batman and Superman animated series as well as his collaborations with Alex Ross, Paul Dini very much understands the core of what makes certain DC character tick and is able to distill that essence into highly enjoyable stories perfect for hardcore fan and interested observer alike. I was a big fan of Dini’s work on Detective Comics immediately following the One Year Later event where he showed that the sensibilities he brought to those projects carried over nicely to done-in-one stories set in an ongoing series as well. Now Dini has finally got his dream project: a monthly platform to showcase his favorite character of all, Zatanna, and it’s off to a very nice start. Again, Dini seems to be playing to his strengths as the first issue while setting up a bigger tableau also stood nicely on its own both as an introduction to the character and neat little adventure that combined mystery and magic, so I’m hopeful this is a pleasant sign of things to come. Dini’s enthusiasm for the character makes the stories enjoyable to read and it’s nice to see Stephane Roux on sequential work where such care is clearly being given, so I’m hoping for a monthly treat here.

It would seem bright times lie ahead for us fans, my friends.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Paragraph Movie Review: Moon

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

A slow start, but then this movie becomes very interesting very fast, then by the final act downright riveting. Mostly I'm impressed by what principal actor Sam Rockwell and director Duncan Jones as well as the crew were able to do with what they were given/had to work with. I've been a fan of Rockwell awhile now, but clearly this film is a next-level move for him as he's the only performer for nearly two hours and more significantly has to play off himself, a feat that no amount of technology can make easier. Rockwell defies expectations and excels, playing the range of emotions masterfully, deftly differentiating his two roles, providing some light comedy as well as heart-wrenching moments, handling difficult physicality and generally giving the story its arc; it's a pretty incredible feat. Similarly, Jones and his crew manage to recreate the freaking moon on what doesn't look to be a huge budget with an end effect in many ways more believable than any amount of CGI and also shoot the same actor interacting with himself both in conversation and even fight situations so well you don't even notice "the strings." I really had an appreciation for the music chosen (probably no surprise given that Jones is David Bowie's son) and the uncomfortably good makeup job done on the ailing version of Rockwell's character. And hey, Kevin Spacey has had quite the career, but the voice of a semi-sentient computer may well be the role he was born for. I wasn't so much blown away by Moon as deeply impressed; I don't think I'll be watching it again, but it held my attention quite well and I certainly came away with a deep appreciation for the work put in.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Linko! XLIX

Hey readers! Kevin Mahadeo here filling in for Kiel for this week's Linko! Let's get this party rolling:

* Ever wonder what life on the seven seas was like for Cap'n Crunch? Well wonder no more because Comicrazys posted some strips by Jay Ward Studios. (Via!)

* Over at ComiXology, Shaenon K. Garrity lists the 10 manga that define manga. As a manga man myself, I think this list is pretty rad. Looks like I've got some reading to do. Thanks to Robot 6 for the heads up.

* Kick-starter band project from Kiel's friend Angela...she's not in the band, she just likes them, and he trust her taste:

* "Anne of Green Gables" has made it onto Project Guttenberg. Kiel said he is going to spend the next week reading it, so join along. It'd be almost like reading it together.

* This one comes from over at /Film, which informs me there exists purchasable "Fight Club" replica soap. But more importantly, also available: Han Solo in carbonite soap.

* Remember that Blue Beetle test footage Geoff Johns mentioned? Well, found 5 seconds of it in a demo reel.

* The Florida Supercon is going on this weekend in Miami. I'm heading out there tomorrow with some friends so expect pictures in the near future. Tickets should still be available at the door for those who want to come find me. I'm giving away free hugs and high fives!

* The new creative team on "Power Girl" takes over next week and back when I first saw Sami Basri's cover, I knew I wanted to give this series a look. And now with preview pages out, I'm pretty much drooling in anticipation.

* Finally, I'm a HUGE fan of the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" television series. It's easily one of the best shows ever created for anything ever. I'm still a little hesitant on the upcoming film, but these little snippet videos showcasing each of the four nations is undoubtedly awesome. Head over here to check them out!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cruel Summer: Deathstroke The Terminator

When I first started taking an active interest in DC comic books in the early to mid-90’s, I thought, despite his name, that Deathstroke the Terminator was a super hero.

On the surface, it certainly seemed that way. For one thing, he had an ongoing series, and as far as I could tell, villains didn’t get those (Eclipso was an anomaly to me and I figured that was why Venom only got minis). I also remember reading bits and pieces of Panic in the Sky and seeing that Deathstroke was in there fighting Brainiac alongside Superman and the Justice League, pretty vigorously at that. Heck, I think he even wore a black arm band when Superman died.

And it was the 90’s, so “Deathstroke” was hardly the worst name I saw affixed to a good guy.

Imagine my surprise several years later reading Marv Wolfman and George Perez’ seminal New Teen Titans and learning that The Terminator—who they never really called Deathstroke even though that name was used at some point briefly in his early appearances—was a bad guy!

To be fair though, Slade Wilson wasn’t really that bad a guy. Well, he was. I’ll try to explain.

The thing that pushed The Terminator from vigilante to villain particularly in his earliest appearances weren’t just that he was pretty hard line about the ends justifying the means; it was that his ends were pretty unimpressive from a moral compass standpoint. The guy was a mercenary; end of the day, he was looking to score a pay day, and thus whatever he did to you along the way was cool. It wasn’t personal, but it was still pretty douchey.

Of course the whole genesis of Slade’s introduction to the DC Universe and grudge with the Titans was that his son got killed trying to collect a bounty he turned down from the H.I.V.E. for the teens’ heads so now he feels obligated to finish the contract. On the one hand, it’s honorable in a sense that he’s doing this for his kid; on the other, he’s still trying to ice a bunch of teenagers. And the really nasty stuff he did—primarily using and bedding a (maybe) barely legal sociopath as part of his master plan—code of honor or not was pretty darn inexcusable.

However, The Terminator’s motivation wasn’t really power or even money-driven when it came to the Titans; it was about preserving his family name, which sets him apart from a lot of the villain set similarly to what I was talking about with Kraven recently.

Ironically or appropriately—probably a little of both—perhaps my very favorite Terminator story is entitled “Shades of Gray” and comes from Tales of the Teen Titans #55 by Wolfman and Ron Randall. It’s after Slade has fulfilled his contract and gotten away with it after being acquitted thanks to friends in high places, so Changeling comes after him for revenge over what happened to Terra. Terminator beats the crap out of Changeling but doesn’t kill him, then calmly invites him to join him for breakfast, where he more or less says it sucks that Terra is dead, but he was just doing his job and now that it’s over he’s not going to bother the Titans anymore because he’s got no issue with them.

It’s a pretty awesome issue and a pretty awesome scene. It was also the perfect cap to The Terminator story because there really was no motivation for him to keep coming after the Titans or any other heroes as his story was over and his goal accomplished. Wolfman provided a great coda to the saga of a wonderfully complex character he’d begun five years earlier.

Unfortunately, Deathstroke couldn’t fade quietly into the night because he was too darn popular. To his credit, Wolfman held off bringing him back for a solid few years, and then when he did, he didn’t just invent a new reason for him to oppose the Titans, he brought him back as their ally, which made sense as his son was a member of their team.

At first, Deathstroke was kind of cool as a bad ass pseudo good guy with a distinct dark side. Reading the full Panic in the Sky story, I dug how he’s the guy Superman doesn’t want to go to for help because of his past, but needs for his military experience. He did ok for a bit on the outskirts of the DCU.

But more and more, Deathstroke the headliner became contrived and forced. The guy was a mercenary, yet he wasn’t taking assassination jobs on a monthly basis because stars of their own books just didn’t do that (even with Deadpool, who’s had a much longer shelf life, you notice he always has the heroic impulses creeping up every few issues as opposed to actually being a straight up “Merc with a Mouth”).

So Deathstroke’s book got cancelled and he became a bit of a toxic character for a bit because he was so far afield from the guy he started out as. I think he had a few cool appearances in the Batman books as a dude just taking money to kick the crap out of Batman, which is really the perfect use for him, but they were few and far between.

Then along comes Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis in 2004 and the inspirational rebirth of Deathstroke as a viable ass-kicker. In issue #3, Slade takes on the bulk of the Justice League—no big three—in a matchup fans had dreamed of back in the 80’s yet never saw and he dismantles them with precision and forethought, immediately bumping him back up to A-level baddie. Admittedly some of the ways he took out the heroes could be seen as a bit contrived—I never really bought that he took control of Green Lantern’s ring by just “out-willing” him—but Meltzer wrote the sequence with such obvious enthusiasm and it was so well-laid-out by Rags Morales that the cracks were pretty hard to see beneath the fun.

Suddenly, Deathstroke is back and Deathstroke is cool and everybody wants to use Deathstroke again. Out of all this we get some pretty neat comics, but also some that just seem to miss the point; that point being that Slade Wilson is not a moustache-twirling, cackling, out-and-out villain, he’s shades of gray, baby.

Meltzer had Deathstroke as the “bad guy” in Identity Crisis in the sense that he’s beating up the Justice League, but he’s really more of a set piece than anything else; near as I can tell, Meltzer didn’t really have any sort of goal as far as stripping down Slade Wilson and telling some broad character arc, he just had an idea for a great fight scene and pulled it off nicely.

But in the ensuing half-decade, I feel like we’ve seen too much of Deathstroke as just a plain old super villain who takes things personally and goes after heroes just cos. It’s the flipside of why he didn’t work in the 90’s as a hero.

That first run of Titans stories was awesome because it gave The Terminator a clear mission statement and reason for doing what he did: he was going to finish the contract his son took on to deliver the Teen Titans to H.I.V.E. no matter what he had to do in order to accomplish that, and then he was going to move on. It was nothing personal; they were just a mission.

The Deathstroke of today, in my opinion, takes things way too personal. He’s not a pro anymore. He attacks guys because they pissed him off, not because of any debt of honor or because there’s money to be made; that’s not Slade Wilson to me, that’s just a super villain. You make Deathstroke just another bad guy who holds grudges and has archenemies, you take away what makes him unique and cool.

To be fair, some excellent stories have been written with Deathstroke as a bad guy (I dug his Judd Winick-written appearances in Green Arrow myself) just as some awesome stories were written with Deathstroke as a good guy, but I maintain the best stories have The Terminator awash in shades of gray. It will always be tough to reinvent Slade beyond where those first five years of his existence had him just because Marv Wolfman really did give him a perfect beginning, middle and end, but I also understand there’s too many cool aspects to the guy—his rad costume not being the least among them—to just let him sit in limbo, so I heartily root for those who take on the challenge of taking him into the future.

Ultimately, Slade Wilson is a decent hero and an ok villain, but he’s an excellent character.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Art Attack: September 2010's coolest covers

Boy, the summer sure did fly! But now the beach weather has passed and it's time for kids to head back to school...

Oh wait, never mind, it's just September comic book solicits.

Let's look at some pretty covers!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #642 by Marko Djurdjevic
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #643 by Marko Djurdjevic
BATMAN: THE ODYSSEY #3 by Neal Adams
BATMAN: STREETS OF GOTHAM #16 by Dustin Nguyen
BOOSTER GOLD #36 by Kevin Maguire
DAYTRIPPER #10 by Gabriel Ba
DEADPOOL #27 by Dave Johnson
DV8: GODS & MONSTERS #6 by Fiona Staples
FEAR AGENT #30 by Tony Moore
THE FLASH #6 by Francis Manapul
FRANKEN-CASTLE #21 by Dan Brereton
G.I. COMBAT #1 by Geof Darrow
GREEN ARROW #4 by Mauro Cascioli
INVADERS #1 by Alex Ross
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #30 by Salvador Larroca
IRON MAN: LEGACY #6 by Juan Doe
MADAME XANADU #27 by Mark Buckingham
NEW MUTANTS FOREVER #2 by Bill Sienkiewicz
SECRET SIX #25 by Daniel Luvisi
SPIDER-MAN: BACK IN QUACK #1 by Skottie Young
SUPERGIRL #56 by Amy Reeder
THOR: FOR ASGARD #1 by Simone Bianchi
THUNDERBOLTS #148 by Marko Djurdjevic
UNKNOWN SOLDIER #24 by Dave Johnson
VALKYRIE #1 by Jay Anacleto
Marko Djurdjevic? Unstoppable.
Neal Adams and George Perez? Still bringing it.
That Bianchi Thor spread? My new desktop wallpaper.